Family of unarmed man says PCP finding "immaterial" to police shooting

Terence Crutcher

TULSA -- The family of an unarmed man fatally shot by a Tulsa police officer says a report finding PCP in the man’s system is a “distraction” and “utterly immaterial” from the crucial issue in the case – whether or not the officer was justified in using deadly force.

Terence Crutcher, 40, had “acute phencyclidine intoxication” when he died Sept. 16, the report found. Officer Betty Jo Shelby was charged with first-degree manslaughter after his death, with a prosecutor saying she reacted unreasonably when Crutcher disobeyed her commands.

Lawyers for Crutcher’s family released a statement saying the toxicology report “does not change the most pertinent facts of this tragedy” and that Shelby “should be held accountable for her unlawful actions.”

A lawyer for Crutcher’s widow Frenchell Johnson said there were “no surprises” in the medical examiner’s report, which also found that Crutcher died from a gunshot wound from the chest and ruled the manner of death a homicide.

“This presence of PCP is a distraction and utterly immaterial to the crucial issue, was Officer Shelby justified in using deadly force on an unarmed man who posed no threat to any officer or citizen?” Johnson said in the statement, released to CBS affiliate KOTV. “The answer, of course, is ‘no.’ Unfortunately, the use of illicit drugs is common in this Country. Those, like Mr. Crutcher, who struggle with addiction should receive treatment, not a bullet in the chest.”

Shelby encountered Crutcher after coming across his vehicle abandoned in the middle of a north Tulsa street. Videos from a police helicopter and a dashboard camera of the shooting showed Crutcher walking away from Shelby with his arms in the air, but the footage does not offer a clear view of when Shelby fired the single shot.

Shelby told investigators that Crutcher refused repeated requests to stop and get on his knees and that she feared for her life, believing Crutcher was going to kill her, according to an affidavit filed with the manslaughter charge.

Tulsa police had said previously that they had found a vial of PCP in Crutcher’s SUV - and the police officer’s lawyer said she had completed drug-recognition training and believed Crutcher might have been under the influence of drugs.

Medical literature says PCP, also known as Angel Dust, can induce euphoria and feelings of omnipotence as well as agitation, mania and depression.

Dr. Matthew Lee, a physician and pharmacist who also works for the Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office, said the 96 nanograms per milliliter of PCP found in Crutcher’s system is more than enough to cause someone to be uncoordinated, agitated and combative.

“It’s on the high side, relative to causing some sort of impairment or intoxication,” Lee said.

Shannon McMurray, one of Shelby’s defense attorneys, said the report helped provide an early “snapshot” of evidence in the case and that as more is released, “it will be clear in my mind as the case unfolds that the officer was justified in her use of force.”

McMurray told KOTV her client was correct when recognizing Crutcher was intoxicated, and that factored into her fear.

“She recognized in her mind that he was possibly high on PCP, and that is the beginning of what caused her concern and heightened her alert,” McMurray said.

Another Shelby lawyer, Scott Wood, had said previously that the officer was so focused on Crutcher that she didn’t hear other officers near her before she fired her service weapon. Almost simultaneously, another officer fired a Taser at Crutcher as he moved toward his SUV.

In a text message to The Associated Press on Tuesday, Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said he expected the tests would show Crutcher had drugs in his system, including the possibility of PCP.

Shelby, 42, has pleaded not guilty. She faces between four years to life in prison if convicted.